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Aussie captaincy enters transition phase

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Oliver Brett | 13:23 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009

Before it actually happened, it was quietly taken as read by some journalists and fans that Australia's selectors would move to appoint a new captain across all formats if Ricky Ponting was to lose a second Ashes series on English soil.

Nothing like it had happened to an Australian skipper since Billy Murdoch's team were demolished by Kent's Fred Martin in the 19th century - an era of comedy moustaches and rudimentary protective equipment.

But two weeks after Ponting made the long journey home to ruminate on a 2-1 defeat by the old enemy - he will return to England in time to lead his side in the fourth one-day international next weekend - there are no immediate signs that his deputy Michael Clarke is set to be handed the captaincy on a permanent basis.

On Monday, it was announced that Ponting would draw a veil over his international Twenty20 career - and Clarke, who has already shown imagination in his two stand-in appearances as Aussie captain to gain a 2-0 lead in the one-day series - will surely assume that role in due course.

But it is Ponting who will defend the 50-over-a-side ICC Champions Trophy in South Africa at the end of this month and, unless Australia's selectors are ready to throw a curve ball, the 34-year-old will also captain his country in home Test series against West Indies and Pakistan.

Positive results against weak opponents will only stiffen Ponting's resolve to fulfil his final ambition, that of winning an Ashes series in England at the third time of asking, in 2013.

Michael Clarke and Ricky PontingClarke and Ponting both have designs on the Australian captaincy

But fans of Clarke, 28, must not despair. The pretender will continue to get opportunities to lead his country as Ponting gets the luxury of further "periods of rest" throughout the foreseeable future.

And tantalisingly, Cricket Australia did not confirm Ponting's Test captaincy in its statement on Monday. That alone is a strong incentive for Clarke to showcase his leadership skills when the opportunities come his way.

Ponting is arguably the greatest batsman to wear the baggy green cap since Bradman. Under every statistical measure his Test exploits surpass the sparkling careers of Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Greg Chappell.

Coincidentally, those three were all captains of Australia too, but none surely had their tactics questioned as readily as Ponting.

Ten years ago, the Tasmanian arrested a downward spiral of drinking and gambling - the "Punter" nickname sticks to this day - with the considerable support of Cricket Australia.

He has repaid the national board with two World Cups and countless Test series successes - beginning with a 3-0 sweep in Sri Lanka, and also including wins in other tough locations like India and South Africa.

It was a run that kept Australia on top of the world rankings until Ponting's England curse struck for the second time this summer (although we shouldn't forget he was in charge for the crushing 5-0 Ashes win in 2006-07).

But Cricket Australia's dilemma is clearly apparent. It would look almost brutally cruel if it suddenly shed the avuncular role it has adopted over Ponting since rehabilitating him at the start of the decade.

While fans' favourite Shane Warne was busy texting his way out of the captaincy, Ponting went from bad boy to poster boy after taking over from Steve Waugh - and his remorseless run-accumulation shows that leadership suits him just fine.

But when not able to dictate with the bat, Ponting is prone to making poor decisions. He had Marcus North, the sort of bowler who Geoffrey Boycott's female relatives would salivate over facing, sending down those crucial final overs in the Cardiff Test when Australia were unable to force victory.

The rub-off was severe. By lunch on day one of the subsequent Lord's Test, he wore a perplexed look, having swiftly run out of ideas. The four-bowler system that had worked so well with bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in the side looked a deeply flawed tactic with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook in control.

England put on 126-0 in the first two hours of the match, and went on to win comfortably.

Australia's non-selection of Nathan Hauritz in the final Test, which saw England's specialist spinner Graeme Swann took eight wickets, may not have been Ponting's decision alone. If he had pressed Hauritz's case with coach Tim Nielsen and the selectors, however, the off-spinner would have played.

Four years earlier, there was the biggest faux pas of all - Ponting's decision to insert England at Edgbaston knowing that his most dangerous bowler in the prevailing conditions, Glenn McGrath, had injured himself in the pre-match warm-up.

Clarke is a ferociously eager school prefect whose own sobriquet "Pup" is attributed to his youthfulness.

And while the British media have rightly castigated Andrew Strauss's team for their failure to chase down two gettable targets in the one-day series, Clarke's sure leadership has been a factor in each match.

He has performed some sort of minor miracle by converting Shane Watson, a reluctant bowler indeed during the Ashes, into a devastating wicket-taking option.

And his aggressive field placement throughout England's innings at Lord's on Sunday was rewarded handsomely when wickets kept on falling. Of the recognised batsmen, only Paul Collingwood - starved of the easy singles which he so often dines out on - lasted until the final overs, by which point Brett Lee would not be denied.

It was smart captaincy, and though we will again see Ponting resume as skipper the gradual transition has already begun.


  • Comment number 1.

    I've been impressed with Clarke, but England have really given him two pretty easy wins by letting Aus of the hook batting and bowling poorly at times in both games so far.

    I can see Ponting steping down from one day cricket at the end of the Australian summer but retaining the Test captaincy for a couple more years and I guess he'll be allowed to continue until he decides to stand down if he gets the results. If he does Captain until 2013 then it might be that Clarke misses out with maybe a more long term option like Phil Hughes (I'm sure he'll end up being a good player for Aus).

  • Comment number 2.

    Was there an Ashes series in 2007 ??

  • Comment number 3.

    Dear Oliver
    I would like to bring your attention to the fact that Ricky Ponting has never captained his team to a test series win in India. In 2004, Adam Gilchrist was the captain except for the last test, which Australia lost. In fact, I do not think Ponting has captained Australia to even a test win in India - though I could be wrong on that one!
    I hope you clarify this point

  • Comment number 4.

    I suspect there were many positive comments in Punters' early career as Captain. You may well have chosen to avoid recalling those. Isn't it nice and convenient to kick a man when he is down?

    Sure, Clarke may well step in when his time comes, but to be so disrespectful of the current test Captain is simply poor ban-wagon jumping 'journalism'.

    Poor column/blog. Very poor indeed!

  • Comment number 5.

    While he obviously has a very good cricketing brain, I don't think Clarke's quite ready for full captaincy.

    He completely lost the plot when put under pressure in the first ODI by Wright and Rashid, the bowlers basically had to do the job for him!

    On a side note, as an outsider I really don't understand how the English selection process works, how didn't Rashid get picked after being Englands best performer at the Oval.

    SA have become the No1 side by having a very stable team whom the selectors back 100% - even when they have an off day. England seem to just throw a load of names in a hat and whoever comes out first plays!

  • Comment number 6.

    "Australia's non-selection of Nathan Hauritz in the final Test, which saw England's specialist spinner Graeme Swann took eight wickets, may not have been Ponting's decision alone."
    I don't mean to add salt into your wound and I am no scholar. Also, perhaps it is a "typo" but I think that this should read "take" not "took"?
    Interesting nonetheless and great to see links to the best cricket site ever to exist!
    Ponting will be back in England in '13 so long as he gets some meaningful results with the test team in the meantime. I reckon Pup's batting would suffer under the test/ODI captaincy (unlike Ponting's of course).

  • Comment number 7.

    It appears Punter will continue till the 2013 Ashes but he has a wife and family and needs to spend time with them. Dumping the 20/20 game frees him up more for that, don't be surprised to see him finish 50/50 cricket after the 2011 World Cup and play 2011-13 purely in Tests. He desires winning the Ashes in England and that is his guiding light in cricket now

  • Comment number 8.

    Whether or not Ricky Ponting gets the chance to try and win the Ashes in 2013 surely depends upon the result of the series in 15 months time. If England can win, or even retain the Ashes down under, he will surely be hounded out by the media.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great captains make their cricketers play above themselves, good captains make the most of their best players. Neither of these things really applies to Ponting. The test will be when he takes over captaincy in the one-day series. England have been so eccentric in their selection that I don't really have an opinion of Clark. Perhaps he just got lucky? I guess England could be saving their best for Ponting's return. That would be a sensible strategy since losing the ODI series would almost ensure that he also lost the captaincy. Since Australia tend not to keep ex-captains in their teams, that would be a definite bonus for England when they come to Australia.

  • Comment number 10.

    Ponting at least drinks beer, Clarke doesn't like it, how can you ever consider him as captain of the test team ffs? hot missus and airbrushed into gillette ad with Rog and Tiger ain't enough.

    'If England can win, or even retain the Ashes down under, he will surely be hounded out by the media.'

    Winning in England is one thing, but I think we all know there is as much chance of England winning in Oz as there is of Lampard and co winning the World Cup. (devastating loss in QFs here we go). If England can draw a test in South Africa I will be surprised.

  • Comment number 11.

    astrobalaji - You're right. Ponting was injured and missed the first two Tests of that series. Technically I probably should discount him as a winner of a series in India, but given that it was very much part of his era, that he helped prepare the team for the matches and was very much the touring captain I feel he should take some of the credit.

    RIP Rocky - There is no disrespect here. I've called Ponting the best Australian batsman since Ponting, but I think you will find few people who support the view that he has particularly strong captaincy skills.

    6 - not sure why Rashid was dumped either. truly mystifying.

    Comments 7-10 - you all make a lot of sense. You guys can come again

  • Comment number 12.

    Some of Ricky Ponting's tactics were questionable in the recent Ashes series - I'm just wondering whether he really had the energy he needed to put into it at the time. What I was really impressed by was the stirling way he handled the many dubious umpiring decisions that went against his side, and the abuse of the crowd. To put on such a brave face after the final day of the Oval test when having to run the gauntlet of vapid and banal interview questions was just outstanding.

  • Comment number 13.

    "RIP Rocky - There is no disrespect here. I've called Ponting the best Australian batsman since Ponting."

    He is the best batsman since.....himself?

  • Comment number 14.

    "RIP Rocky - There is no disrespect here. I've called Ponting the best Australian batsman since Ponting."

    He is the best batsman since.....himself?

    I think he is referring to his father Graeme Ponting.

  • Comment number 15.

    hello guys everyone say that ponting had some great players in his era so he has won won so many trophies and test series' but do anyone think that managing so many great players like pigeon,haydos, warnie,langer..etc is a sternous task than managing a new bunch of guys who l be very easy to work with. And punter should be given some more time to show that he is a capable captain. It is shear bad luck that he lost 2 consecutive high pressure ashes series' 'cause if he is not a good captain he couldnt have won so many cricket matches in his tenure as captain. So stop critisizing him. Clarke can also be very effective in his first few matches but if he loses a couple of games then the people who praise him for his shrewd captaincy will be on his back.

  • Comment number 16.

    Clarke hasn't had anything to do with Shane Watson being a sturdy one-day bowler. He frequently takes wickets in this format as checking his stats would tell you. That's why he is classed as an all-rounder and in this format, a good one. Claiming Clarke's influence just sounds like a made-up stick with which to beat Punter's captaincy.

    Anyway, it was nice to see a top batsman out there today even if he only got 48. No-one does that swivel pull like Punter.

  • Comment number 17.

    Old regret

    Agree with your entire post.

    Dont see what good it would do to sack Ponting as captain and replace him with Pup.

    And no one plays the pull shot like Ricky, Pup played a nice one too on Sunday.

  • Comment number 18.

    If Ponting could win a toss he'd have won the Ashes.

  • Comment number 19.

    Although winning the Ashes in England is the jewel in the crown for an Australian captain and Ponting's disappointment at losing in England a second time must have been huge, it seems unthinkable to me that he would not continue as Australian Captain.

    After all, he has suffered 2 narrow, away-from-home series defeats, 2 wins and 4 losses in a career where he has, out of 61 tests, won 39 and only lost 11.

    Look for an English captain with a better than 3 to 1 win loss ratio and you have to go back to Douglas Jardine - anybody remember seeing him play?

    Ponting has the qualities one has seen in other Australian Captains. Firstly he is a top quality batsman with an average over 50, but more importantly, in similar ways to Alan Border and Steve Waugh, his inner hunger for playing the game successfully enables him to impose a style of leadership which lifts his players whenever he is on the field.

    Much more alarming to me is the current state of the English captaincy.

    Andrew Strauss, impeachably doing his job in the ODIs is already showing signs of the strain which has afflicted his predecessors. As Flintoff and Peterson languish on the list of injured, I ask myself if their early ascendency to the captaincy can have shortened their respective careers. Each time I see Flintoff play, I ache for what might have been if he had not captained the side in the 2007 series whitewash.

    Argueably, looking at the last statistically successful captain of England, Michael Vaughan, should give us a few clues as to how English teams have worked well in the past. While a wonderful batsman, his best days with the bat were not while he was captain, but his strong leadership brought to the side a unity which, in my opinion they had not had since Mike Brearley. Definitely captain first player second.
    Between these two - a list of famous names(quite a few of whom were numbered in those predicting the demise of Ponting)where the best captaincy statistics are around the 1-1 ratio.

    So while we need to look at providing Strauss with better support, as I believe he is the right choice as England captain, where do we look to to groom his repacement in the manner of Michael Clarke is being groomed as Ponting was before him?

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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